“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That’s the famed slogan of the U.S. Postal Service. Epidemic can now be added to that list.
Deemed essential, over 600,000 USPS employees remain on the job, including 121,573 postal clerks and 166,343 letter carriers, delivering lifesaving and sustaining goods to customers during the outbreak.
Package volume is up enormously as people shop online from home, but mail volume is down drastically. That could be a real problem for the Postal Service. “The precipitous drop off in mail use across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic could shutter the Postal Service’s doors as early as June,” Congressman Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a March 24 letter. Connolly—the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service—asked McConnell to include relief for the Postal Service in the Senate stimulus bill, but McConnell declined; the Senate bill lets USPS borrow up to $10 billion. The scrapped House stimulus bill would have provided $25 billion in emergency appropriations and eliminated USPS’ Congress-set $11 billion obligation to pre-pay retiree health coverage.
Keeping safe on the job
Are postal workers safe? USPS management, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, says there have been no known cases of coronavirus spread by handling or delivering mail. But as an extra precaution, postal unions got USPS to commit to provide hand sanitizer for letter carriers to use each day, supplies to clean steering wheels and other frequently touched surfaces in postal vehicles, and masks and nitrile gloves for any employee that requests them. Most letter carriers are wearing the gloves, and are trying to limit close contact with the public: For items that require a signature, they no longer hand a device to the customer, but instead get verbal agreement to sign for them.
“We’re deemed essential, so we’re going to go out there and do our job, but letter carriers have the same anxiety and fear that everybody else does,” says David Norton, president of National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 82.
NALC also got USPS to agree to allow letter carriers to use sick leave if they lack childcare as the result of a closed daycare or school.
With more people at home, customers are more likely than ever to see their letter carriers, but Norton asks that members of the public not approach them and maintain proper social distancing.
STAMP OUT HUNGER FOOD DRIVE POSTPONED
The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, which was scheduled for May 9, 2020, has been postponed. With much of the United States currently under shelter in place or similar advisories due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and social distancing guidelines in place indefinitely, NALC decided it was highly unlikely that those involved in the food drive would be able to safely participate just four weeks from now. NALC said it will reschedule the food drive later in 2020, when it’s safe to do so.